If These Walls Could Talk

by | Apr 2023

Home on Drexel Avenue in Edina

Through user submissions, HouseNovel visitors can view historic photographs of local homes—like this one on Drexel Avenue in Edina. Photos: HouseNovel

Home history website aims to tell the story of every house in the United States.

Graceland, Hearst Castle, Monticello, Biltmore, Fallingwater—the most famous houses in the United States are rife with stories, but they are far from the only ones. Every house has a story, and husband-and-wife duo David Decker and Amanda Zielike are intent on sharing those stories with the world. Together, the couple founded HouseNovel—a website that collects user-generated content to build a database of home histories, one property at a time.

“We joke that HouseNovel is what you would get if ancestry.com and Zillow had a baby,” says Zielike, who grew up in Edina fascinated by the historic homes surrounding her.

The duo came up with the idea for HouseNovel after listening to Decker’s mother talk about the parties she used to throw at her old farmhouse before it was lost to foreclosure and torn down. Zielike and Decker, who both have backgrounds in commercial real estate, hated the thought of those stories being lost, so they built HouseNovel as a platform to preserve home histories.

For three years, they developed the platform and aggregated home data from public websites, focusing their initial efforts on the Twin Cities region; they officially launched HouseNovel February 2022. By the end of the year, they had amassed over 20,000 home profiles across the nation and 10,000 in the Twin Cities alone.

“The goal is to get a piece of history for every house in America,” Zielike says.

The company is off to a good start. Users have begun to share fascinating nuggets of information about their homes, making the site a treasure trove for real estate agents, architects, history buffs, buyers and sellers alike. “It’s really for anyone passionate about home history,” Decker says—including Edina residents.

4510 Drexel Ave Man at Front Step

In viewing a home on Drexel Avenue in Edina’s Country Club neighborhood, visitors can learn that the 95-year-old Spanish Colonial Revival is on the National Registry of Historic Places and is currently housing its ninth family. It was first sold to Marie and Oswald Risvold in 1927 for $2,385. Two years later, the eldest son of the man who developed the neighborhood purchased the home. Visitors can discover when and why the laundry chutes were removed and the reason behind a strange electric switch in one of the bedroom closets. They can also learn about the current homeowners’ efforts to renounce racist language in the deed that initially restricted the sale or lease of the property to “any person other than the white or Caucasian race.”

“The real magic happens when people add their own stories,” Zielike says, noting that they encourage everything from homeowner biographies to remodeling information to those funny quirks that make a house a unique home.

Home on Drexel Avenue in Edina

Drexel Avenue Home

How are those stories vetted? Zielike and Decker have a multi-layer security strategy that includes the flagging of inappropriate information and a report feature the public can use to trigger a review. Their team can also see everything being added to the site on the back end, so they can keep an eye out for questionable content.

With their model off and running, Zielike and Decker now have their sights set on expansion. For their next big push, they have identified 10 primary target markets, including: Boston; Charleston, South Carolina; Chicago; and Savannah, Georgia. They also hope to partner with local historical organizations, including the Edina Historical Society and Edina’s Heritage Preservation Commission, to bolster their entries and assist in capturing and preserving more home stories.

Amanda Zielike and David Decker

Amanda Zielike and David Decker

Instagram: @housenovel
Twitter: @HouseNovel


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